Danger and Opportunity in Eastern Europe

Courtesy Reuters


Eastern Europe is undergoing important changes that could erode Europe's security and damage U.S. interests. The enlargement of both NATO and the European Union was supposed to consolidate political and economic reform in the region and aid its integration with the West. The recent rise of nationalist and populist forces in several countries in eastern Europe, however, threatens to undermine the reform process. Enlargement fatigue in the EU and growing calls for protectionism within western Europe could further hinder continued efforts to create a single European market and fully integrate the new EU members.

At the same time, the balance of power is shifting on eastern Europe's outer periphery. The collapse of the "Orange coalition" (the group of political leaders who led the 2004 Orange Revolution) in Ukraine has brought to power a government much less open to reform or eager for close ties to the West. This is likely not only to slow Ukraine's integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions but also to have a dampening effect on reform within the other former Soviet states. In addition, after a decade of weakness and passivity, Russia has reemerged as an important regional and international actor, especially in the energy field.

These changes have gone largely unnoticed by policymakers in Washington despite the important implications they have for U.S. interests. The United States has invested considerable energy and resources over the last several decades promoting a Europe whole and free that could act as a strong, cohesive partner and help the United States manage security threats emanating from beyond Europe's borders. If eastern Europe reverts to old patterns of nationalism and parochialism and the process of European integration falters, much of this investment will have been squandered.


In general, the last decade was a period of economic growth and increasing prosperity in eastern Europe. But the tide of liberal economic reform has recently turned. Pro-Europe and pro-market parties have lost ground throughout the region and have

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